Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 17, 2017

Science squeezed out of our institutions

Scientific insight in the USA has historically come from either our government laboratories or our institutions of higher learning. And it has been essential that these centers of research “tell it like it is” rather than provide information that is simply comforting to the public and our controlling political and commercial forces. Tragically, that is not happening today.

With the recent election of President Trump and the GOP domination of our legislative branches, we now have very little scientific information concerning climate change that is getting past the gatekeepers of those bodies. In addition, the majority of our elected officials in Washington DC appear to have only minimal regard, at best, for scientists and even science, itself. As implied in one of my previous posts of January 2017 entitled “Sir, are you now or have you ever been a climatologist?” scientific input from our nation’s research laboratories and regulatory bodies, such as the EPA, is on the verge of being essentially outlawed so that the preferences of various business entities can proceed without regulatory or scientific interference.

As has been illustrated by my interactions with the upper administration of St. Olaf College described in my previous post of January 2017 entitled “On the compartmentalization of a difficult decision at St. Olaf College”, we appear to be experiencing a similar blockage of scientific input to the leadership of this and other institutions of higher learning of USA. An important function of these academic institutions used to be provide advice of the highest intellectual caliber concerning the world’s problems. This function appears to have been negated by the strong financial ties that now exists between the administrations of our academic institutions and existing corporate powers. As a result, very few of our nation’s colleges and universities have been sufficiently influenced by the latest information concerning global warming as to divest their endowment funds from the fossil fuel industries. This, in spite of the near-unanimous agreement among climate scientists that the combustion of fossil fuels must be stopped as soon as possible.

Trying to get our society to do the things that are necessary to combat relentless advance of global warming is difficult. Most people will do something of an altruistic nature for the overall good of mankind and future generations only if they are taught, encouraged and led by those who do understand the entire problem and, in addition, are willing to walk the walk required to get there. This leadership role is one that our colleges and universities are well poised to play but do not because they have placed a higher priority on a continuation of the donations they receive from their exceeding wealthy “friends” tied to fossil fuel dependent industries.

Perhaps the only example of late for movement in the opposite direction has come from a group of former leaders of the GOP. This group includes former secretary of state James Baker who served under George H.W. Bush; Henry Paulson who was treasury secretary under George W. Bush, and George Schulz, who was secretary of state under Ronald Reagan. They have proposed the implementation of a stiff and annually increasing carbon tax on the production of all fossil fuels. As this website has continuously explained, the implementation of a stiff carbon tax is essential if our atmosphere is no longer going to be used as a free-of-charge garbage dump for the disposal of the CO2 produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. While this suggestion is long over due and is unquestionably fair and apppropriate, it apparently took a few elderly “grownups” within the GOP to acknowledge this.

Another ray of hope is that our media will become more forceful on this subject.   Our American democracy has been built on a foundation of a press free of government interference and governed by strong professional ethics. I happen to be very well aware of this elevated view of American journalism because my own father was a life-long practicioner of it. Of course, the media occasionally gets stuff wrong, and whenever they do they need to put it right. Nevertheless, they are the foundation of an informed democratic dialogue. Our president is currently throwing mud over all issues and especially that of climate change – and is doing so deliberately with malice directed towards the institutional traditions of our country.  He’s telling us we are being lied to all the time by everyone. That has a corrosive effect, deepening public distrust of the media and other institutions at a time when they already enjoy historically low levels of confidence. We cannot let that happen and we need a strong and active media now perhaps more than we ever have. It would also help a great deal, of course, if our colleges and universities would wake up and get more intimately involved.

 

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